April 16th, 2288
The siren in Sanctuary’s main square had sounded at the break of dawn, its keening rousing everyone including MacCready in his water tower nest. The message from Bunker Hill had been brief. Hostiles converging nearby. Fearing imminent threat. Help defend. With most of the community’s personnel off doing who-knew-what, pickings had been slim to build a team that could offer Bunker Hill any assistance. Both Sturges and Codsworth had been left to watch out for Sanctuary while Preston marched MacCready, Cait and Dogmeat off into battle. These types of requests usually entailed putting down a gaggle of ferals or three wayward Gunners. After, he could probably shake down a few of the residents for a fat stack of thank you caps. No big deal. They’d be back by sundown.
As they followed the road in a little line, Preston had taken the lead, the enormity of his laser musket at the ready. Behind him, Cait tossed a bat wrapped in wicked-looking barbed wire from hand to hand, a machete swinging at her hip. Happily oblivious to any danger, Dogmeat scampered around the two of them in a circle as they walked. Picking up the rear, and falling slightly behind, was MacCready, trying to give both humans a wide berth.
Cait had been intolerable since Vault 95, picking verbal fights instead of physical ones and being generally unpleasant. As a childish solution to this problem, he had been actively avoiding her. An absolutely selfish thought, MacCready wished that she had never gotten clean. If the Psycho was what kept her smiling, flirtatious, and happy, he preferred her on it.
As for Preston, MacCready found himself in an endless loop of trying to appease his requests while making every attempt at avoidance. The Minuteman kept requesting MacCready’s aid, seeking him out, knowing the he was the best shot in the group, even beating out Danse for that title. Any weird request that came in for assistance with a ranged approach went straight to him. Mirelurks giving a settlement troubles? Sure. MacCready would wiggle up in a tree and make short work of the problem. Oh, no – a quarry full of raiders? Lemme hang out on this ledge and make some heads spurt. When paired with Nate, he’d rush in, drawing attention in his ridiculous vault suit while MacCready picked off whatever was dumb enough to stick its head out. That much, he was prepared for. But this life kinda sucked. He had signed up for a standard contract of assisting Nate, not getting caught up in a revolution where anybody at all could give him orders. He didn’t have to accept all requests, but it was hard to judge where Nate’s influence ended and someone else’s began. The guy was so deeply entangled in everybody’s business that, should a request roll down from the Enclave, MacCready couldn’t be certain that Nate wasn’t responsible for it and that he wouldn’t be contracted to oblige. This yes, sir, right away, sir reality felt way too similar to his time with the Gunners.
MacCready had always suspected that he would be a lackluster solider, and time and again, it had been proven. He didn’t fit right with the Gunners and sure as rain didn’t fit in with Nate’s eccentric group of protagonists. He was in it for the caps and to hell with valor, involving himself in heists and situations he prayed that his son would never hear about. His son. Dammit. It was far less painful to forget about him, to have all-consuming lengths of time when all he did was work, providing for Duncan even if he couldn’t be present. But what kind of life could he have with Duncan at his side? A merchant, getting ripped-off and robbed every few days? A repairman? Yeah, sure – he’d definitely be happy with that. Wrong.
With the duffle bag over his shoulder packed full of ammo boxes and everything he cared about, MacCready had an inkling that he wouldn’t be returning to Sanctuary. That brief period of time when things seemed to be working out for him had expired. Nothing much remained for him in the Commonwealth besides a misplaced sense of responsibility towards Nate, despite having long since refunded the caps used to hire him. Whatever he had with Cait seemed to be drawing to a close and, heck, he missed his son badly. MacCready couldn’t even guess at what Duncan must look like now. He hadn’t been much more than a toddler when he had been left behind in Big Town. Irony was that MacCready had left to ensure a safe home for Duncan, abandoning him at the same time.
He almost snorted in sardonic laughter as he trudged through Charleston staring at his comrades’ backs. Danse’s life was way worse than his, automaton or not, having everything he had sucked away and reality rubbed in his face. And Nate…crap…Nate might never find his son. And here MacCready was, knowing full well where Duncan lived and opting to remain separated. Everything he set out to do was for Duncan, and then it all had gotten so muddled. It was time to say goodbye to the Commonwealth. Bunker Hill was almost to Goodneighbor. He could grab one last job from Daisy, escorting one of her caravans all the way back to the Capital Wasteland. After that, he’d grab Duncan and hightail it off to somewhere – anywhere – else.
Done, he nodded to himself. He’d do just that. And better to make a break for it while Nate wasn’t around to object.
“Keep up, boy-o,” Cait grumpily called, giving him a half-glance. “Yer laggin’ behind.”
Sunlight sparkled on surface of the Charles River. On the other side of the river, a camp full of raiders congregated, leather-clad ants patrolling a roof-top holdout beyond firing distance. Bright blue skies and calm winds filled the sky, with no lingering traces of the radstorm that blew over the city yesterday.
No signs of the Railroad either. Radio silence had been initiated following MacCready’s plea to Deacon. Any request for updates had been answered with frustrating static. At this point, they either had or they hadn’t managed to retrieve Curie. If they hadn’t, well, he didn’t want to think about that. Synth or not, she was a nice lady that didn’t deserve to die. He made a deep, harrumph in his chest. Heck, he’d been wrong about everything else he thought he knew – why not add incorrect prejudices about synths to the list? If Danse ever darkened his doorway again, he might just be able to muster up an apology to the guy.
Speaking of, there was a notable Brotherhood presence in the area, one that seemed to be getting thicker the closer they got to Bunker Hill. Trios of soldiers were stationed here and there patrolling the streets of Charlestown, some with guard dogs, some on the move, stomping in their armor as they followed the same route that Preston lead his group along. The four of them were ignored, bucket heads never swiveling in their direction, not that their inaction eased MacCready’s growing anxiety any.
Minutemen flags were flying in Bunker Hill when they arrived, proudly displaying the peoples’ affiliation. The crumbling monument stretched tall, its steeple spearing the belly of the sky as it cast a long shadow over the adjacent lodge. Although he had only been there twice, MacCready felt that the town seemed overcrowded. In the shade of the high granite walls, anonymous heavies were assembling all over the marketplace, hardened-eyed men and women in reinforced coats that slunk through the shadows, avoiding eye contact and carting heavy weaponry.
“What’s goin’ on here?” MacCready drawled, eyes drinking the busy community up. Between the Brotherhood forces and these guys, it looked like something big was about to go down. A ridge of fur stood straight up along Dogmeat’s spine.
“Looks like we found the Railroad,” said Preston.
Sure enough, MacCready spotted an agent named – what was it? Glamor? Glory? – striding around the corner of a vendor’s stall. He took a few steps in her direction, but when he rounded the partition she had vanished completely, leaving him stumped. Come to think of it, most of the other heavy hitters had also disappeared. He knew better than to even try to spot Deacon. He wondered if the Brotherhood’s presence had triggered the assemblage of Railroad agents or if it was vice versa.
“Looks like this place is about to get one hell of a showdown,” Cait muttered as Preston steered them out of the market into Bunker Hill’s farming area.
A middle-aged woman in a patched suit was barking commands as two men strung chains over a rear entryway. “And when you’re done, secure the front gate. Send a runner to hold the caravans at a safe location until this is all sorted out. Reinforcements should be on the way.”
“That’d be us, Kessler,” Preston announced, causing the woman to swing around to face him. “We’re here to help.”
Her eyes dragged over the lot of them, seeing what had to look like a skinny kid in a coat that was too big, an irate woman swinging a bat, an anxious dog, and a lone Minuteman. “Some cavalry,” she said curtly, mouth turning down, disappointment sagging her shoulders. “The General said that we had nothing to worry about. I’m worried.”
“Dirty Mungo,” MacCready mumbled under his breath.
“What?” Kessler bit, sending a disgusted glance at him.
“What?” he repeated as if he hadn’t heard, giving his best attempt to look innocent. The sharp sound of chains being dragged over concrete grated in his ears. A vendor knocked into him, her arms full of wares to be squirrelled away and secured. He blew an annoyed sigh from one side of his mouth.
“The General managed to reach out to you?” Preston clarified, shifting his laser musket from one shoulder to the other. “What did he say about the nature of the threat?”
“He didn’t,” Kessler answered, looking upset at that fact. “Warned us to go to brace ourselves, though.” She gave a nod towards the chained door. “Don’t think that I haven’t noticed the activity around here. Not sure what the Brotherhood is hoping to find, but I’m not about to open my doors to them.”
“And the Railroad?” MacCready asked, dropping his weighty duffle to roll his shoulders. “You pin any of them down for an answer?”
“The Railroad? What are you talking about?” Something in Kessler’s eyes shifted, fear blotting out irritation before switching back again. “Why would the Railroad be here?”
“Seriously?” MacCready’s brows shot upwards. “You’re gonna try and tell me you didn’t see them? That fleet of heavies disappearing like ninjas? They’re good, but they aren’t that good.”
“Kessler, answer me honestly,” Preston began in a low, soothing voice. “What do you have here that both the Brotherhood and the Railroad would want?”
She appeared to soften, forehead creasing as she struggled to elucidate. “I’m…I’m not at liberty to say, Colonel. But please…if this gets ugly…when this gets ugly, keep hostiles out of the marketplace. There’s more at stake here then you know.”
“Well, hell. Obviously that’s the case,” Cait grumbled, jammed a fist against one hip. “If you want us bleedin’ and dyin’ for ya, you better give us somethin’ better to go on.”
Kessler swallowed. She cast a few quick glances either way. A few citizens hurried about, readying weapons and closing down stalls. The men who had rigged the chain had moved on to the main gate. They were alone as they could be. “Synths,” she answered at barely more than a whisper. “We hold escaped and rescued synths in the basement. If the Brotherhood gets in, they’ll take them. They’ll kill them outright or experiment on them. Please, you can’t let that happen.”
Cait’s arms hung loose and air rushed from MacCready’s chest. Synths. Of all the things to risk their lives for. “The Brotherhood?” MacCready repeated slowly, as if Kessler was daft. “You…want us to fight the Brotherhood of Steel over a bunch of synths?”
Only Preston seemed unperturbed. He gave Kessler an easy smile. “The Minutemen stand up for everyone. Doesn’t much matter where they come from or what they’re running from. We’ve got this, Kessler. Make sure your people are safe.”
Jeez, MacCready thought. Way to make me feel like a jerk. Clearly, Preston was a better person than the rest of them.
Kessler faded away as she hustled her constituents into secure positions. The shacks and overhead gangways were nearly abandoned, the barrels of a few rifles visible over railings as residents crouched in wait. A steady thumping of propeller blades grew and fell in volume as a few vertibirds circled Bunker Hill, their fat bellies close enough to clip the monument should they veer off course. Dogmeat was padding around in circles, sniffing about and sneezing, clearly amped.
“Something doesn’t line up,” Preston said, raising his voice to be heard over the droning of the ‘birds as they congregated under the enclosed market. He looked confused, an alarming expression for someone that was the leader of their little group. “I get that the Brotherhood has their own priorities, but raiding a settlement for information and kidnapping suspected synths doesn’t seem like their style.”
“Pugh,” MacCready groused, hefting his duffle again. “Clearly, you’ve never been to the Capital. Brotherhood gutted that place. Everything that they didn’t claim got destroyed. It’s why I took off; all decent cities where anyone could try and grab some under-the-table work had to answer to their rulings. That’s the Brotherhood I know. If they can’t control it, they destroy it.”
With her nose with wrinkled in distaste, Cait mentioned, “Ain’t Nate with them walking garbage cans, right now? That’s where he went off to, didn’t he?”
Shaking his head, Preston blew a sigh out of his nose. “It just doesn’t add up. We’re missing something. And going up against Brotherhood firepower…that doesn’t make me happy. Or optimistic.”
MacCready couldn’t keep an expression of disgust from claiming his face. “The Minutemen going to war with the Brotherhood over a bunch of synths hanging out in a basement. Is that worth it?”
“Preventing an unnecessary loss of life and helping innocent people to live free?” Preston questioned. “That’s always worth it.” A beat passed, and then his posture abruptly changed, squaring his shoulders and lifting his chin. “Alright. To it, then. We’ll split up. Cait, you good to hold the market?”
“I’ll crack whoever’s heads get in me way.”
One of Preston’s brows lowered. “Well, I guess that’s…refreshing. I’ll hold the gate.”
“Where do you need me?” MacCready asked, ready to get this bloodbath over and done. If he had just a fraction of additional cowardice in his body, he would have considered slipping away before the bullets started to fly. Heck, maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea.
Preston gave him a slight smile and his gaze traveled upwards. “Exactly where you think.”
Lifting his head, MacCready looked straight up at the monument. His grin matched Preston’s. “Got it.” An elevated position too cramped for armored soldiers to get to. Maybe he’d survive this madness after all.
“Dogmeat!” Preston called. The shepherd pricked his ears and trotted over, tongue lolling. “With me, boy.” They left the safety of the granite-lined market to take a position at the front gates, which had been shuttered and crisscrossed with both ropes and chain.
It became all too clear to MacCready that he and Cait were alone in the square. She wasn’t even looking at him, just gazing at the circling ‘birds with a bored expression. The tips of his ears burned slightly in awkward discomfort. “Well, uh…yeah,” he mumbled at her, clutching his duffle a little closer. “See you on the other side.” He tuned and made for the stone doorway that led up the tower.
Cait must have spun quickly to have snagged the back of his coat as fast as she did. Suddenly, he was being hauled backwards, making him stumble a little. She whipped him around and planted a violent kiss on his lips. It was…weird. There was no passion behind it and yet held a finality that spoke volumes. When she broke away, she said, “We’re gonna be tradin’ some words when this blows over.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, downtrodden. “No denying it.”
Turning his back on her, he began ascending the flight of stairs leading to the top of the obelisk, knowing that there was the slightest chance that Cait would slip out during the rumpus, which would probably save her own life and spare him that conversation with her. He wasn’t sure if he preferred that option or not.
Within moments of climbing, he was winded, a stitch in his side causing him to pause and mutter, “I’m gonna get old and die climbing these stairs.” There usually wasn’t this much cardio involved in sniping. The walls seemed to spin around him as he climbed, swirls of pale granite flying by. Occasional gaps where the stone had crumbled away gave him glimpses of the world below, the only proof that he wasn’t trapped in a vortex of stone.
At long last, he reached the top, finding a chair and a small table beneath a sizable window. A breeze rolling in from the sea tugged at his cap, the slightly briny tang of ocean air filling his nostrils. Slinging his duffle down, he set up shop. He kicked the chair out of the way and stacked cases of ammunition on a rickety table, popping the boxes open for easy access. Readying his rifle, he slipped a round into the action and closed it.
He had a visual of not only the front entrance but the bridge leading all the way to Beacon Hill. Several squads of Brotherhood soldiers marched around the perimeter of Bunker Hill, carrying a hardcore arsenal. MacCready traced their units with the barrel of his rifle. Not that he wanted to shoot at people that were kinda just doing their jobs, even if they were assho – idiots. Pissing the Brotherhood off could mean the end of the entire Commonwealth.
In a terse moment, he wondered if it was too late to join Cait for the imaginary escape he had built up in his mind. That would be a shi – awful thing to do to Preston, leaving him alone to fight an entire legion. He supposed, worst case scenario, that the Castle could bomb the entire town into powder, putting an end to them all.
Stuffing his cowardice to one side, he blew out a steadying breath, and settled to one knee, waiting to hear the rat-a-tat of gunfire accompanied by the pew-pew of laser fire. Minutes ticked by. It had been a while since he had seen any Railroad operatives. Where had they disappeared to? The basement, likely. Brotherhood forces wouldn’t wait around forever. MacCready braced himself for the inescapable moment when the armored patrols would storm the gates, ready to drop them before they could even touch the woodwork.
He had only an instant to comprehend what was happening before it was too late. Static tingled all over his body seconds before the sky filled with channels of blue light so brilliant that he had to look away. Those forks of azure energy crashed to the ground with deafening booms. There was no frontal assault; it came from all sides, including above. Gunfire exploded from every direction. Synths were appearing out of nowhere, both inside and out of the Bunker Hill enclosure, riding fingers of blue lighting in droves. The sapphire light would dissipate and clusters of early model synths would immediately open fire. “Oh, shit!” slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it. Blue pops of Institute forces were dotting the Bunker Hill piazza.
There had been no word about the Institute’s involvement.
MacCready thumbed the safety off, taking a preliminary shot at one skeletal-looking Gen-1. Bang. The spindly thing blew apart in a shower of metal and plastic. Long, frantic minutes became a cycle of drop target, pull the bolt back, eject casing, re-load, line up new shot, rinse, repeat. Fuck. Robots were everywhere.
The Brotherhood finally sprang into action. They did break the gate down, causing MacCready to momentarily wonder what happened to Preston’s defense, pushing through in pursuit of Institute forces before unloading a barrage of fire into the square. The salvo was too much for the settlement. Minigun rounds tore vast chunks out of the masonry while laser fire caused crops to go up in flames. Several Railroad agents flickered into view as their Stealth Boys died, firing enormous Gauss rifles at the armored Brotherhood units, laying into them until plating flaked off and the soldiers went down. The Brotherhood was swift to respond, tearing the agents to shreds while synths slid through the marketplace unhindered. Dumb. Dumb dumb dumb. Both sides were losing focus on their Institute opponents in favor of laying into one another.
MacCready downed one courser, easily recognizable in the crowd, before losing any specific targets in the throng. His job became futile as all three factions swarmed the city, the skirmish so packed full of combatants that it was difficult to pinpoint only synth targets without risking Brotherhood, Railroad or civilian casualties. Too many noncombatants were scattering throughout the area, fleeing the surprise synth invasion and the bombardment of gunfire. MacCready could have sworn that he spotted a kid out there, darting between shacks as she searched for cover.
He lowered his rifle, the barrel dipping dishearteningly as he closed his eyes. A brief flashback to Quincy claimed his senses, of a firefight with a kid running around that had ended badly. There was no such thing as a secure location, no place where a kid could grow up safe and happy without the threat of some group rolling in a blowing everything to Hell. He pictured the boy from Quincy, remembering the way he looked as he writhed on the ground, MacCready’s bullet in his leg. In this memory, the boy wore Duncan’s face.
The roar of vertibird ammunitions being fired shook him from his trance. He opened his eyes to see the airborne forces bob in the sky, front-mounted lasers sending a concentrated destruction at the streets lining Bunker Hill’s barricades. A few scant figures darted through the roadways. Ferals. No wonder. They were probably drawn by the noise. The sounds from the battle were echoing through the entire city, sure to wake all kinds of lurking things.
Once ferals appeared, Brotherhood forces were torn, their attention divided and weakened. Rays of deadly energy were streaking in all directions. A fireball erupted a block away and MacCready knew that a vertibird had gone down. Feeling a chill, he remembered that Nate was with the Brotherhood. Fuck. Had that been him? Cait’s fate was lost to him as well. Without a decent view of the marketplace, he had no idea how she was faring.
This entire brawl was insane. The Institute was winning, no doubt, picking off lone combatants as the other two parties ripped into one another on a massive scale. He felt a sudden respect blossom for Deacon and Danse. Somehow, the two of them managed to keep an uneasy peace while the rest of their factions were, apparently, bloodthirsty savages bent on vengeance.
His disgust was interrupted by a deep bellow. Leaning out of his window, he spotted what looked to be a trash heap lumbering across the bridge, leading their way. It was wielding what looked to be a boat anchor, swinging it in wide arcs, pulverizing a triad of Brotherhood soldiers that were misfortunate enough to not be encased in steel. “Holy fudgebuckets,” he spat, recognizing what it was. The mutant behemoth roared again, dripping in salvaged gear and colossal pieces of snow-white ceramic, its gigantic feet crushing cars as it headed straight towards Bunker Hill.
MacCready slumped down, dropping out of view from his window. Under the tearing impact of heavy fire, the monument quivered, puffs of dust shaking free between the stones. This was a shitstorm of epic proportions with no way out. He sat with his rifle in his lap, groping to draw his emergency pistol. Once loaded, he chambered a round and aimed it at the stairway. His free hand slid into a pocket and gripped his toy soldier tight, whispering an apology to Duncan for sucking beyond belief.
As the obelisk quaked violently, he wondered who would get to him first – synth, human or fanged creature. All of them were monsters.